Last Dance of the Vestris

The shipwreck

The New York Times

once called

"The grimmest epic

of the seas since the Lusitania was sunk."

"Decks that had been horizontal for sixteen years went vertical and then turned upside down. Anything that hadn’t slid across them in the previous hours began to free fall to starboard. The contents of the grand saloon, music room, nursery, gymnasium, smoking room, verandah café, cabins and cargo holds came down violently against her bulkheads. Passengers and crew heard a seemingly endless series of crashes and deafening explosions. Above the roar, the deck piano could be heard playing its last disjointed notes as it came unbolted and was smashed to pieces."

"Sailing Day brought 128 people from all walks of life—more than enough to keep the crew of nearly 200 busy. As they crossed the gangway, Purser Albert Pugh greeted each passenger and assigned cabins. While he waited to board, First Class passenger Friedrich Puppe stood on the pier watching the stevedores work. He wasn’t an expert, but he thought something about the way the cargo was being loaded and stowed didn’t look quite right."

The disaster
The people


A book by Clint Olivier
Foreword by Commodore Ronald Warwick


"A heavy steel beam snapped off the Vestris with a loud crack. Whether it was a cargo crane or a davit, the beam fell so fast no one really had a chance to see exactly what it was or where it came from. Steward George Hogg was standing on deck, directly in its path. He screamed as the beam shattered his arms on its way down, bouncing off the hull before dropping directly into No. 6 with a sickening thud. Most of the women and children on board were crushed to death instantly."

The Rescue

"Captain Cumings was rewarded for his persistence when, just before 4:00 a.m., the American Shipper’s lookouts sighted a flare dead ahead. Passengers who had been up all night received the payoff they had been waiting for—the rescue was finally underway. Lifeboat No. 5 battled the heavy wind, rain and lightning and within minutes, bumped against the hull. Shipper sailors tied it up and helped the weary survivors aboard as fast as they could, where once on deck, each was wrapped in a blanket and handed a hot cup of coffee or soup. The well-dressed passengers of the American Shipper watched as the haggard castaways appeared one by one."

The Aftermath

"The forty day proceeding set a record—eclipsing the length of the Titanic inquiry by three days. Butler Aspinall read the Court’s findings on the last day of July, but despite the massive amount of testimony, the wreck commissioner expressed disappointment that all the facts about the Vestris’s fatal voyage might never be learned. “Speaking generally, the evidence is unsatisfactory, contradictory, inconsistent and piecemeal,” Aspinall said. “Much of it is unreliable, some of it is untruthful.”

The Bakersfield Californian

calls last dance of the vestris

"immensely readable."

The Ship